On July 12, the Obama Administration released a policy directive from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declaring that it would no longer require states to comply with the work requirements established under the 1996 welfare reform law. As Heritage experts Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley explained, the HHS waiver blatantly disregards the intent and letter of the historic welfare reform law. Some public figures and media “fact checkers” have challenged this characterization of the Obama Administration.
In response to HHS’s controversial order, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) visited Heritage to “fact check the fact checkers.” Following Hatch’s remarks, panelists including Heritage’s Robert Rector, blogger Mickey Kaus, and the Manhattan Institute’s Kay Hymowitz surveyed additional areas where these “fact checkers” have their “facts” wrong. Rector, Kaus, and Hymowtiz have been involved in the 1996 welfare reform since the very start.
The basic idea of welfare reform was that able-bodied adults should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving aid. This policy has remained enormously popular with the American public. Moreover, it has worked. Following the ’96 reform, welfare rolls were reduced by half and child poverty plummeted.
The Obama Administration’s new policy attempts to undermine welfare reform’s work requirements and is in violation of the law. These changes by the Obama Administration will increase the number of able-bodied individuals who receive welfare without working. The Administration is not merely gutting welfare reform but “turning it on its head,” said Rector.
The Obama Administration claims its primary objective for waiving the work requirements is “to explore new ways to strengthen work requirements.” Strengthen work requirements by waiving them? As Hatch noted, the Administration is either trying to pull one over on us or is “using a different edition of the dictionary” over at HHS. Instead of promoting and enforcing what qualifies as work, the Obama Administration is opposing such.
The 1996 welfare reform law “sent an unambiguous message,” said Hymowitz, adding that its policymaking was based on the principles of “fairness,” “centrality of work,” and the recognition that soft skills “were best learned on the job.” In regard to “fact checking,” Hymowitz termed it a “false enterprise” in which anybody can be called upon to be a fact checker.
Mickey Kaus, who worked with reformers in Congress and the Clinton White House to achieve the historic reform, also warned about fact checking. Referring to the Obama Administration’s new welfare policy, the kausfiles.com blogger declared: “Look at the plain language,” noting that it explicitly ends limits of job search and ignores the labor requirements.
Work and personal responsibility are key principles for discouraging long-term government dependence and assisting those in need to achieve self-reliance. The 1996 welfare reform law succeeded in helping millions of Americans do that. Many others of the roughly 80 federal means-tested programs are in need of reform. Policymakers should work to expand the success of the 1996 reform, not undermine it.